Friday, February 18, 2005

Daytona and the Legend of Dale Earnhardt

Daytona and the Legend of Dale Earnhardt
Track Was Scene of His Greatest Triumph, Greatest Tragedy

Richard Petty had one kind of charisma, and Dale Earnhardt had another. Petty was NASCAR's version of Andy Griffith; Earnhardt was its Clint Eastwood.

Both put a stamp on stock-car racing that will never fade. Both men won seven championships. Earnhardt was the only driver ever to be rookie of the year one year (1979) and champion the next. He also won six championships (1986, '87, '90, '91, '93, '94) in a span of nine seasons.

Daytona International Speedway was the scene of some of Earnhardt's crowning glories and also the track where he met his maker.

Never has the 2.5-mile speedway seen a moment more stirring than in 1998, when Earnhardt rolled down pit road after his only Daytona 500 triumph, with all the other pit crews lined up pay homage.

Never has it known greater sorrow than on Feb. 18, 2001, when Earnhardt was killed instantly in a fourth-turn pass on the final lap. That same part of the track had claimed the life of Earnhardt's best friend in racing, Neil Bonnett, eight years earlier.

No one else has ever won anywhere close to the 36 races Earnhardt won at Daytona, but only three of them were official Cup events. Moments after his fatal crash, Chevrolets owned by Earnhardt captured first and second place.

Never has NASCAR known a man with whom working people identified more. He was a ninth-grade dropout from a textile town, Kannapolis, N.C., who struggled to pay the bills and get out of the shadow of his father, Ralph, who himself was a short-track legend. Earnhardt's father never lived to see his son win 76 Cup races and seven championships. He died of a heart attack at age 45.

The "wrong side of the tracks" mentality remained etched in Earnhardt's character, even when he earned wealth and fame. In his mind, he was never a rich man, but he cherished the independence that all his achievements afforded him.

Was he tough? Yes. As tough as an NFL linebacker or a professional boxer. But he wouldn't have been able to pull off all those miracles had his skill not matched his aggressiveness.

Many insightful observers consider Earnhardt the greatest driver ever to strap himself behind the wheel of a stock car, and almost everyone would rank him somewhere in the top five.

One of the myths about Earnhardt is that he had a disregard for safety. The truth is that he was vitally concerned about. His fatal flaw may have been that his unconventional views derived from personal experience instead of scientific research.

For instance, Earnhardt always wore an open-face helmet not so much because it afforded him greater visibility, although it did, but because he considered a full-face helmet dangerous.

"It's better for an open-wheel racer, maybe, or a guy who's riding on a motorcycle," he said five months before his death, "but for a stock-car racer, it's just like a noose around your neck."

Earnhardt's greatest triumph was the 1998 Daytona 500 because NASCAR's most prestigious race had eluded him for so long. He had run out of gas in 1986, suffered a flat tire in 1990 and been outdueled by Dale Jarrett in 1996. What he yearned for more than anything else, was an eighth championship, one that would set him apart from Richard Petty, whose record of 200 victories was unapproachable.

After winning that day in Daytona, he was asked if he had achieved all his life's goals.

"Hell, no," Earnhardt replied. "I want to win that eighth championship. That's what my life and my career have been all about, winning championships. Nobody has ever won eight before, and that's what we're shooting for. We think we've got a great shot at it this year, and then we'll keep going from there."

Obviously, it wasn't to be.

Earnhardt was often moody and unpredictable, and he wasn't a particularly graceful loser. His fire, though, was one of the key ingredients in his greatness.

When he died, the South had not seen such an outpouring of emotion since Elvis Presley's death in 1977. In a perverse way, his death drew more fans to the sport simply because many Americans started noticing, drawn by the national attention devoted to the Earnhardt tragedy.

02-10-05 16:17 EST

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Yale Backhands the US Military

In case you missed it...

Yale Backhands the U.S. Military

By Newt Gingrich and Vince Haley

U.S. News and World Report puts has Yale Law School in the No. 1 spot in its ranking of academic institutions. In the affections of the American people, however, it is likely to soon rank last once people learn it has just turned its back on the United States' fighting men and women during a time of war.

Yale Law Dean Harold Hongju Koh has decided that, as of Feb. 3, the U.S. military is banned from going to the Yale campus to recruit law students.

This is not a misprint. Three days after more than 150,000 of the United States' finest men and women helped secure a peaceful election in an Iraqi nation recovering from more than 30 years of tyranny, the United States' "No. 1" law school proudly announces that the U.S.
military cannot come to Yale to find much needed support among the best and brightest legal minds for the ongoing mission of these 150,000 courageous U.S. citizens in uniform.

The very day that the soul of the nation was so moved during the State of the Union Address by the tearful embrace of a grieving but proud mother of a fallen soldier and a newly free Iraqi woman, Yale Law School decided that the U.S. military doesn't measure up to its standards and needs to shove off.

Young Americans are risking their lives and dying in places like Baghdad, Fallujah, Najaf, Kirkuk and Mosul to protect us here at home.
And what is the response of the United States' "No. 1" law school: Do whatever it is you do in places like Fallujah but don't come here to New Haven.

Why does Yale refuse to let the military on its campus? Its answer is that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding homosexuals is in violation of the non-discrimination policy that it requires all employers to follow in order to recruit on campus.

But Yale has made exceptions to its anti-discrimination policy before when money was at stake; why can't it make another exception during a time of war when U.S. lives are on the line?

For the last couple years, a federal law was enforced that permitted the government to withhold federal monies from any school that barred military recruiters from campus. With $320 million of federal aid in jeopardy, Yale decided that it could make an exception to its non-discrimination policy and allow military recruiters.

On Feb. 1, a federal district judge somehow concluded that this federal law is unconstitutional (which is a very controversial matter in itself, but not the focus of this essay). No longer in fear of losing its federal subsidies, the Yale Law Dean issued a statement the very next day that the military was no longer welcome. Unlike the potential loss to Yale of $320 million, supporting our troops in time of war apparently does not merit an exception to the policy.

Given that Yale law students are supposed to be among the best and brightest, why is it that law students themselves cannot make judgments about whether to interview on campus with the military?
Although the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is well known, the Yale law faculty could make it a priority that all Yale law students be specifically educated about its details but leave the final decision on interviewing with the military to them.

Yale law faculty already trusts its student to make judgments about a wide variety of viewpoints. A look at the Yale Law School event Web site shows that campus life encourages a tremendous amount of diversity. For example, in March Yale is the site for a two-day symposium entitled: "Breaking with Tradition: New Frontiers for Same-Sex Marriage."

Yale presumably is confident, as it should be, that those Yale students who do not wish to break with tradition when it comes to marriage can handle the presence on campus of those who advocate a dramatically different viewpoint. Similarly, those Yale students who support the troops in Iraq are no doubt mature enough to be able to handle the faculty workshop scheduled in early March entitled "The Occupation of Iraq".

Surely then, the presence on Yale's campus of representative of the U.S. military, which incidentally liberated Iraq from a homicidal regime that made homosexuality an offense punishable by death, can be endured by those law students who may disagree with its policies.

Yale Law Dean Koh should immediately reconsider his decision and allow military recruiters on campus.

(Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and author of "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America". Vince Haley directs policy research for Speaker Gingrich at AEI.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

He loves you not: Valentine's hype can force tough decisions

He loves you not: Valentine's hype can force tough decisions

Mon Feb 14, 9:33 AM ET

The holiday creates so much pressure that it's a common time for relationships to end.

By Elizabeth Lund, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

They're the Valentine's Day (news - web sites) gifts no one asks for: a note slipped under the door that reads "I'm taking my freedom back." Or 25 votive candles with the comment, "The flame has died." Sometimes it's just the ring of a phone and the terse message, "We're through."

Those on the receiving end of such presents might want to break Cupid's arrows, since Valentine's Day breakups are becoming more common. As many as half of dating couples split up on Cupid's big day, estimates Jodi Smith, etiquette expert and president of Mannersmith Consulting.

The main reason Valentine's Day breakups are so frequent, culture watchers agree, is that the much-hyped holiday creates so much pressure and so many expectations. The ubiquitous ads for long-stemmed roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and flowery cards prompt many to think of all the reasons they don't want to remain half of a couple.

But there's disagreement on whether breaking up on Feb. 14 is acceptable behavior or unforgivably cruel.

Ms. Smith doesn't see anything wrong with Valentine's goodbyes, but does think that how they're handled is important.

"There is no need to keep hanging on to something that is not working," she says. "It is perfectly acceptable to break up on Valentine's, [but] dumping champagne on your date, creating a scene, and storming out of the restaurant is poor form. The polite person thinks before speaking and considers the venue before offering a carefully worded exit speech. No need to demean the person while dumping them. Leave the dumpee with a shred of self-respect and a box of chocolates."

Ria Romano of Boca Raton, Fla., didn't follow that advice and still feels bad about how she handled her Valentine's Day split a few years ago. She and her boyfriend had been dating about three months when he planned a romantic, expensive evening.

He buzzed her apartment intercom and asked her to come downstairs, adding, "I have two dozen red roses for you."

Ms. Romano, although dressed for the date, surprised herself by saying, "I know it's Valentine's Day, but I'm not going." She ended the relationship while he stood in the lobby. To make matters worse, Feb. 14 was also his birthday.

"I know that's really, really bad," she says, "but I suddenly heard this little voice in my head saying, 'He's not the one.' I felt so guilty, but I also felt relieved that I didn't have to go to dinner.

"Valentine's Day puts so much pressure on people," she adds. "There's a lot of anxiety that you don't get with Christmas or New Year's."

Ms. Smith has heard such comments many times before. Her advice to Romano and others is: "Don't be too hard on yourself." Yes, it's better to break things off several weeks beforehand, but the culture encourages just the opposite. Dumping is the symptom, she says, not the underlying problem.

"We live in a society where people routinely spill their guts on the Internet or on national television shows, but there's very little self-awareness," she says. "We feel as if we need to act on an emotion as soon as we acknowledge that emotion."

Social scientists agree. "People are notorious for not being strong enough to sit a partner down and say, 'I'm sorry, it's over,' " says Barry Kuhle, assistant professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. Rather than dealing with a situation directly, they procrastinate until something forces the issue, and Valentine's Day does just that.

"It's almost worse and more offensive to mislead the other person by going out on a date and going through the motions," he says, explaining the mindset of many who break up on Feb. 14.

Dr. Kuhle, who proposed to his fiancée on Valentine's Day 2003, notes that dumpers aren't always motivated by altruism.

"The dark side of human nature is indeed dark," he says, in reference to research he conducted at the University of Texas at Austin for a dissertation called "Cues to Commitment." That research reveals five reasons that a man - men do most of the dumping - may end a relationship on Valentine's Day:

1. He's not interested in a deep, committed relationship and doesn't want to lead the woman on.

2. He's scared about the escalation of commitment that often comes with sharing Valentine's Day with a woman.

3. He doesn't want to waste time and/or money on a relationship he thinks won't last.

4. He's dating several women simultaneously and the obligations of the day - dinner, date, etc. - force him to choose one woman and dump the other(s).

5. He's worried that publicly sharing Valentine's Day with a woman will reduce his ability to play the field.

No age group is immune to Cupid's coldhearted surprises: People in their 20s break up because they feel they have plenty of time to find better options, say observers. Thirty-somethings often have a goal in mind and cut their losses quickly if they don't like their prospects. Those 40 and older may feel pressure to find the right mate.

There are so many reasons to blame good old Cupid, it seems. Even teenagers feel the sting of his poor aim.

Kelli, who has asked that her last name not be used, still remembers the competition that Valentine's Day inspired among girls in school. The more flowers or balloons a girl received, the more popular and worthy she was considered.

Kelli always hated Valentine's Day for that reason, but in her junior year of high school, her feelings about the day changed. She was dating a senior, and "for the first time, I was looking forward to it," she says.

Her hopes were dashed the night of Feb. 13, though, when she asked her sweetie how he wanted to celebrate.

His answer: "Actually, I don't want to be in a relationship anymore." His mother told her he didn't want to buy a gift.

Kelli's only solace was that fact that the two of them have remained friends and she can remind him of his dastardly deed, and still does, nine years later. "You have to make good use of these things," she says, laughing.

But for some people, there's nothing funny about breaking up on Valentine's Day, regardless of how much pressure dumpers feel.

"Holidays carry memories with them, and no matter how much compassion and good taste someone thinks they are using when they break up with a lover, a breakup hurts, and doing it on Valentine's Day wrecks the day for years to come," says April Masini, author of the "Ask April" advice column. "If a breakup is inevitable, do it the day before - or even the day after. This kind of scheduling is far more compassionate."

Others put it in much blunter terms. "I suggest you break up at least one month before to avoid a lot of fallout," says Stefan Feller, author of the forthcoming book "How to Break Up, Without Breaking a Sweat."

"A guy who breaks up with a woman on Valentine's is automatically eligible for the sleazeball hall of fame," he says. "A woman who breaks up with a guy on V-Day just gives him another reason to hate the day."

Cupid, consider yourself warned.